4 Apr 2011

Three men start prison terms after being convicting over Tonga ferry disaster

6:52 pm on 4 April 2011

Three of the four men convicted over the sinking of the Tonga inter - island ferry, the Princess Ashika, have today begun serving prison terms.

Seventy-four people died when the ferry sank in August of 2009.

Four men and the company were convicted on multiple counts last Friday, including one each of manslaughter by negligence.

The former director of marine, Viliami Tu'ipulotu and New Zealander John Jonesse were also convicted of sending an unseaworthy ship to sea on five occasions.

In addition Jonesse was convicted of forgery and knowingly using a falsified document.

He has been sentenced to five years jail while Tu'ipulotu was given a 3 year suspended sentence.

The ferry's first mate, Semisi Pomale got an 18 month term, and the skipper, Maka Tuputupu, six months, both with three and a half years suspended..

Tonga's Solicitor General and Crown Prosecutor, Aminiasi Kefu, says the Crown may appeal this sentence.

"So the bottom line is he has to serve six months. Pomale was sentenced to five years altogether, but he is to serve one and a half years and three and a half years is suspended. We need to sit down and properly consider it, but an initial perception of it, there seems to be some kind of inconsistency in sentence."

The Shipping Corporation of Polynesia has been ordered to pay just over one million US dollars in fines.

Lawyer for the company, Vuna Faotufia, says it's about to be wound up and has no money to pay.

He says Justice Shuster was wrong to use a recent British case as the benchmark when deciding what size fine the company would get.

How could he compare a case in London with a case here in Tonga - corporate manslaughter. To me this is outrageous. As a matter of fact there are a lot of Court of Appeal decisions here, you cannot charge someone more than he could or she could be able to pay. That is an injustice in itself. And the company itself is about to fold. The reason the company is still in operation is just for this case.

Vuna Faotufia says they will appeal.